Monday, November 3, 2008

The World, the Workers and (the late) Studs

Stories of work and workers from writers such as Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, and a host of others - help insulate me from the temptation of trying to 'move on up' to live off the rest of the world's workers, and I'd like to wish Studs a posthumous "thank you." I have a tattered copy of "Working," a book of interviews about how it feels to work all day, every day of a working life. The Chicago Tribune has an obituary, with some video clips. Though he reportedly preferred not to use the word 'death', Studs Terkel titled a 2003 book "Hope Dies Last," and he checked out hoping to see Barack Obama elected president.

A presidential poll 'robocall' asked, "Do you think that, in these challenging economic times, it is a good idea to tell people to take the day off from work or school? Press 1 if you agree with this, press 2 if you disagree, or press 3 if you are not sure." The question, reported by someone named ProfJonathan yesterday, helped remind me why I'm a radical, something I've been considering a lot during this economy-dominated election cycle. I work with my hands, sometimes my head, and always with full awarenenss that many would love to profit from my labor. The awareness was planted with my first adult job 40-some years ago, and then nurtured by learning of workers' struggles in mines, fields and factories before my time.

Here in Colorado we had strikes, goons, head-bashing and at least one 'massacre' over in Walsenburg, as the 'wobblies' (International Workers of the World) tried to organize mineworkers in the early 1900s. Unions have fallen on hard times, but as times get harder, I expect to see more desire for worker representation, and a little remedial labor education may help us avoid some extreme actions and reactions. For a taste of what I'm talking about, check out the "Why Capitalism Must Go!" conference later this month. Go if you care, or dare, to find out why they've put a picture of Che Guevara on the poster. I've always stayed a free-agent, giving up pay and bennies for a free life of seasonal gainful employment and very private enterprise, so don't look for me there.

I will not be working tomorrow, however. The original intent of our founding fathers would have made me irrelevant to the voting process for most of my life. Limited to white, male landowners - American elections were initially a process more akin to choosing the governing hierarchy of a private club, than to an exercise of democracy. The vastly flawed system we operate under now is better though, and it deserves and requires thoughtful participation to make it better. Judging by the poll question, we seem to be still debating whether workers should have full participation in the election process. Having voted a few weeks ago, I'll be out observing my neighbors as we struggle, wittingly or not, toward a more perfect union. If possible, I suggest a day of voting, observing, and helping get out a measurable sample of what we are thinking now. Wednesday we can go back to post-mortems of our politics, economy and yes - to work.
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